Game Rewind: Pirates vs Braves, June 18, 1923

During the 1923 season, Clyde Barnhart had his best career year during his nine seasons in the majors, all spent with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He had a big 1925 season, helping the Pirates to their second World Series title with 114 RBIs during the regular season. However, the 1923 season saw him put up a .972 OPS, which was 134 points better than his second best output. One of his best games during that 1923 campaign came at Forbes Field on June 18th with a Hall of Fame pitcher on the mound.

The Pirates had a 30-21 record going into play on June 18th. They were in second place, 2.5 games behind the New York Giants. They were opening up a series against the Boston Braves, a team that sat in seventh place with an 18-37 record. The Pirates were sending Johnny Morrison to the mound. He had a 9-3 record over the first two months of the season, on his way to a team leading 25 victories. The Braves were sending out veteran lefty Rube Marquard, who at 36 years old, was nearing his 200th MLB victory. He would not get closer to that mark on this date, although it looked like he could at the start of this contest.

The Braves had another Hall of Famer in their lineup that day, who had ties to the Pirates. Before he put together a Hall of Fame resume as a manager, Billy Southworth spent the 1918-19 seasons playing corner outfield for the Pirates. The Braves also had catcher Earl Smith and first baseman Stuffy McInnis, who would both be members of the 1925 World Series champs in Pittsburgh. The Pirates had three Hall of Famers in the lineup, one with ties to the Braves. Rabbit Maranville was hitting lead-off and playing shortstop. He spent the first nine years of his career (1912-20) with Boston, as well as his final six seasons. In between, he had four productive years for the Pirates. Max Carey was batting second and playing center field, while Pie Traynor was in his usual spot at third base, batting fifth behind Barnhart. The umpire that day was Hank O’Day, making it six future Hall of Famers involved in this game.

The games started off with a quick top of the first. Morrison recorded two ground outs to second base and a strikeout. The Pirates threatened in the first against Marquard, with Maranville and Barnhart each reaching on singles. Traynor couldn’t come through with a big hit and they went to the second inning scoreless.

Morrison got some help to start the second. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report, Traynor made “a sensational diving stop” on a grounder by Stuffy McInnis and got up in time to record the out at first. It was a big play early because Tony Boeckel, a former Pirates third baseman, came up next and tripled off of the screen in right field. Earl Smith doubled in the first run, then he scored two batters later on a single by second baseman Hod Ford.

The Braves had a 2-0 lead and Marquard worked a quick bottom of the second with three straight ground outs. In the top of the third, a one-out error by Johnny Rawlings at second base led to another run. Ray Powell reached first on the error, then moved to second on a wild pitch and third on an infield single by Southworth. A one-out fly ball by McInnis made it 3-0. The Pirates stopped the runs there, but they lost their catcher when Johnny Gooch had to leave with a bruised finger cause by the backswing of Tony Boeckel. The Pirates were already without their #1 catcher, Walter Schmidt, so they had to go to third-string backstop Jim Mattox, who caught a total of 29 games in the majors over two seasons.

The Pirates got a lead-off single from Morrison in the third, but he watched the next three batters all make outs, sending the game to the fourth with a 3-0 lead for the Braves. The fourth was a quick half inning for Morrison, as the Braves couldn’t get the ball out of the infield. Charlie Grimm had a two-out single for the Pirates in the bottom of the inning, but a nice catch in left field by Al Nixon kept the Pirates off the board.

The fifth saw the Braves collect a one-out single by Marquard, who was then doubled off when Morrison grabbed a line drive hit back towards him to start the 1-3 double play.

In the fifth, Mattox got things started with a single. Morrison tried to bunt him over, but the Braves picked up the out at second base on the play. The Hall of Famers then came through, as back-to-back singles by Maranville and Carey made it a 3-1 game. Carson Bigbee then faked a bunt, as the Pirates pulled off the double steal, putting two runners in scoring position. Bigbee made it 3-2 with a sacrifice fly. Clyde Barnhart followed with a home run into the right field bleachers. That gave the Pirates the lead and it chased Marquard from the game. Larry Benton came on a retired Traynor to end the inning and keep it a 4-3 game.

A great play by Maranville helped the Pirates keep the lead in the sixth. After a second error by Johnny Rawlings put a man on base, the runner got to second base on a ground out. The next batter grounded a ball to the right of Maranville, who made a running stop, then threw the ball to third base, where Traynor applied the tag.

After the Pirates went down in the bottom of the sixth, the Braves had no luck in the top of the seventh. They pinch-hit for Benton and that brought in Dana Fillingim to pitch the bottom of the inning. The Pirates played small ball with the top of the order, as a walk by Carey was sandwiched between bunt singles by Manranville and Bigbee, which loaded the bases. Barnhart came up and tripled to right field, clearing the bases and giving the Pirates a 7-3 lead. Despite there being no outs, the Pirates couldn’t get Barnhart home.

Morrison had a quick eighth inning, then the Pirates added an insurance run on back-to-back doubles by Maranville and Carey. Boston had a single in the ninth, but nothing else, ending the game 8-3 for the Pirates. The festivities wrapped up in a tidy 105 minutes.

Barnhart’s homer was a bit of a fluke. The Pirates had a screen above the wall in right field to prevent cheap homers. Owner Barney Dreyfuss despised cheap homers and made his park big enough so players had to earn the homers. Barnhart hit a liner that went through the screen, which was considered to be a home run. A later rule was put into place that such drives would be considered doubles, but that wasn’t until 21 years later. Barnhart finished 3-for-4 with five RBIs. Maranville had four hits and three runs scored. Carey had two hits, two runs, two RBIs and a walk. Morrison gave up six hits, with no walks and one strikeout.

Here’s the boxscore and play-by-play from Retrosheet